Envoi Allen was an impressive winner at the Cheltenham Festival 12 months ago and is fancied to maintain his unbeaten record with victory in the 2m 5f Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on Ladies Day this Wednesday (13:30).
Trained by Gordon Elliott for owners Cheveley Park Stud, the six-year-old has taken to the obstacles superbly.
After winning an Irish point, Envoi Allen became the best bumper horse in the British Isles last term.
He comfortably won his Rules debut at Fairyhouse and then took the step up into Listed company in his stride when following-up at Navan.
That saw Envoi Allen sent off a red-hot favourite to complete the hat-trick in a Grade 2 at the Dublin Racing Festival.
The son of Muhtathir justified that and made it an undefeated campaign with Champion Bumper glory here on this day last year.
As Envoi Allen ran on gamely and found plenty for pressure up the famous hill, it was a very likeable display indeed. There is a very strong look to the form as well.
Thyme Hill, who was 2 1/2 lengths behind him in third, has come out and won all three graded hurdles starts this season.
Abacadabras, beaten a further 3 1/4 lengths in fourth, has also since scored Grade 1 success.
Highest rated in line-up
It’s no surprise that those rivals swerve Envoi Allen, and go in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Albert Bartlett respectively. He has rivals running scared from him and with good reason.
Envoi Allen made all and jumped well on his much anticipated hurdles bow at Down Royal on reappearance and was then straight back in at the highest level.
He then confirmed Champion Bumper form with Abadcadabras in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse.
The hurdles hat-trick followed when Envoi Allen stepped up to 2m 4f for the first time under Rules in a Grade 1 at Naas.
It was another easy success from a horse believed by many to be the banker of the entire Cheltenham Festival.
Elliott mischievously hinted he could drop Envoi Allen back in trip but, after walking the course at Prestbury Park on Sunday morning, confirmed the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – which was the original plan – as the race he would run in.
There is no doubt that he has leading form claims of landing this.
Envoi Allen has 7lb and upwards in hand on his 11 rivals on official ratings, so just cannot be opposed at 5/4 with Bethard to continue his undefeated streak.
Sporting John feared most in Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
The closest to the favourite, according to BHA figures, is JP McManus’ undefeated Sporting John.
Trained by Philip Hobbs, this five-year-old has been kept to minor events, but has huge potential. Connections didn’t mess about with bumpers with Sporting John after he won his point.
He went straight over hurdles and ran out 1 3/4 lengths too good for Harry Senior on debut in this sphere and under Rules at Exeter.
The runner-up has since progressed to win two of his next three starts, including a Grade 2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle trial here but runs in the Albert Bartlett instead.
Hot bumper performer Bullionaire was beaten a further three lengths in third.
Sporting John built on that very taking debut, where he came with a strong run to lead close home, by following-up over the same course and distance.
He was eight lengths too good for Buckthorn George on his second Exeter outing. Again, the runner-up has since gone one better to advertise the form.
Sporting John had his rivals well strung out and would’ve returned to Exeter for a Listed contest if stormy weather and waterlogging hadn’t twice caused racing to be abandoned.
The son of Getaway instead landed the hat-trick when stepped up to 2m 3f at Ascot.
As Sporting John stayed on strongly to put the race to bed on soft ground, McManus’ retained rider Barry Geraghty could afford to ease him close home. He had previous Grade 2 scorer Master Debonair well-beaten in third.
Off the back of that taking display, Sporting John has earned an official rating of 149 and is 7/2 with Paddy Power to give Envoi Allen most to think about.
The Big Breakaway and The Big Getaway have place prospects
Two horses with similar names have decent chances of making the frame. The Big Breakaway is another unbeaten horse in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
Trained by Colin Tizzard, this five-year-old won his point by 10 lengths before making a victorious Rules debut at Chepstow.
The Big Breakaway ran out a comfortable eight-length winner over Blackjack Kentucky, who has since beaten Grand National hopeful Walk In The Mill.
He then followed-up by drawing readily clear of a decent field at Newbury to score by seven lengths. After just three career starts, this son of Getaway clearly has scope to get even better.
Although the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle demands more, The Big Breakaway looks more than capable of making his presence felt at this level.
Odds of 6/1 with Unibet are solid each-way value, but the same can be said of Willie Mullins’ The Big Getaway
Also by the same sire, this six-year-old Irish point winner runs in the same colours as defending Cheltenham Gold Cup champion Al Boum Photo.
The Big Getaway placed in two bumpers last season and made it third time lucky under Rules on reappearance at Punchestown.
He then switched to hurdles and, but for a mistake at the last, may have followed-up.
That error cost The Big Getaway victory at Leopardstown, but he learned from it and resumed winning ways when bolting up by 17 lengths at Naas last time out.
Now massively up in grade, it will be interesting to see if he can follow-up on that. The Big Getaway is 13/2 with William Hill and another solid each-way option for punters to consider here.
Easywork overpriced for Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Of those at bigger odds, Easywork looks a bit of value for trainer Elliott and owners Gigginstown House Stud.
This six-year-old Network gelding won a Down Royal bumper on his second start under Rules on reappearance.
Easywork then went hurdling and lowered the colours of Mt Leinster when quickening smartly to assert and win a shade cosily at Gowran Park.
The front two pulled over 20 lengths clear of the remainder. He was then stepped up to 2m 4f on heavy going at Limerick’s Christmas Festival and absolutely sluiced up.
Easywork lived up to his name in the mud, making all and staying on strongly to score by 22 easy lengths. Any forecast rain that falls at Cheltenham will be no inconvenience to him.
There was no disgrace when Easywork was pitched straight in at the highest level and back in trip to chase home Asterion Forlonge at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out.
Although no match for the easy winner, he kept on well enough to be sure of second and confirm previous form with Mt Leinster.
The fifth horse home, Jason The Militant, has since come out and won a Grade 2 which advertises the form nicely.
Now back up in trip, the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle may be just what Easywork needs.
He is unexposed over this distance and handles a softer surface, so he could outrun odds of 22/1 with William Hill here.
He is preferred to Longhouse Poet, who represents last year’s winning connections.
Martin Brassil’s six-year-old didn’t stay 2m 6f in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last time out and dropped to third, having previously filled the same spot behind Envoi Allen.